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Direct Energy Business is talking with customers — and not just through sales representatives and call centers. They're seeking customers' opinions about products, billing, marketing and pretty much anything else that effects the customer experience. Employees are no longer guessing at what customers need or like. Instead, Direct Energy Business is actually asking them, and using the feedback to develop products and services and fine tune the web experience.


Meet the Community

Comprised of about 300 members across 21 industries, the Direct Energy Business Customer Community taps into experiences from small businesses and large enterprises. Most members have electricity or natural gas service, and many also use energy efficiency or monitoring solutions.

Direct Energy Business contacts their Community members a few times per month with an opportunity to participate in a study. Most exercises require minimal time commitment, with customers responding to one or two quick online polling questions or an online discussion board. Several times per year, there may be opportunities to participate in more robust research such as focus groups or interviews, which require one-on-one face or phone time with a member. Increasingly popular are "surf-along" sessions, in which members share their screen with a moderator to test the ease of online tasks.

"Our goal is to engage the Community with interactive projects that allow them to freely express feedback about something that could make a big difference for their own experience," explains Community Manager Phillip Barone.

Barone draws on the Community to test and explore a variety of topics. Some studies have investigated web usability questions such as ease of buying energy online, using the live chat feature on the website or reviewing energy usage on the customer portal, MyAccount. Other studies have sought feedback about branding, timing on renewal notices, and use of apps and mobile for energy buying and management.

"Our Community members are a catalyst for exciting change, and it's a great place to gather insight about new services and offerings," says Barone. "We listen and make improvements, even when that means we need to spend more time or money to do things the way customers prefer. Their insights have inspired us to do things like redesign our web tools and create an easy-to-understand bill."


Community Engagement

After conducting studies and polls, Barone usually shares the findings with the Community. In response to the results of one such study, nearly a dozen members responded with glowing appreciation that their voices had been heard:

"You guys do a good job in soliciting meaningful input from the customer, thank you," expressed one member.

"Keep the surveys coming…folks are thinking at Direct Energy," asserted another.

"It's nice to know we can make a difference," yet another member declared.

With an above 90 percent satisfaction rate and often 50 percent or higher participation rates per study, the Community has become a place where everyone can benefit.

"Community members are enthusiastic about participation," says Barone. "Our customers respond because they like knowing their opinions count — that's the best incentive to participate. What they tell us truly does have an impact."


Looking Forward

Since the Community launched three years ago, Direct Energy Business has improved overall customer satisfaction, as measured by their Net Promoter Score. A Net Promoter Score, or NPS, is an index that measures the willingness of customers to recommend a company's products or services to others.

"We strive to make it easier for customers to understand the energy world," says Barone. "In the past, we've made the mistake of assuming that customers understand. Community feedback has been eye-opening and invaluable, driving real improvements in business processes and the customer experience. And we see the results reflected across the company as we learn that more customers are happy with services and feel loyal to the brand."

In 2018, Barone plans to continue expanding the Community. He also plans to take a granular look by getting more specific with questions that help him understand different segments and sub-groups. Start-up businesses have different needs than established businesses, for example. Some customers are focused on price while others want high-touch customer service. Understanding these diverse needs and journeys is crucial to delivering great customer experiences. Data science is crucial, but qualitative information from the Community can give color to those numbers.

With the Customer Community now a permanent fixture at Direct Energy Business, a move toward customer centrism clearly isn't a PR move — it's just how they do business.


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